A L IGHT O UT O F H EAVEN
In Christ is one of the greatest revelations given to us through the beloved Paul. In
Christ is not something mystical or even mysterious. It is simply how God sees
things. He sees all through His Son and in His Son. This was Paul’s vision and it is
to be ours as well.
Since Paul is the apostle of the nations and the one who has given us much of the
objective and absolute truth that is ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord, it behooves us to
trace a little of Paul’s life with Christ, which began on the road to Damascus, for in
Paul we discover the heart of a conqueror, an overcomer in Christ, one who was
captivated by the heavenly vision .
To begin, we need to understand Paul’s background prior to meeting the Lord.
Unlike the first twelve apostles of the circumcision, Paul never knew Jesus as He
walked this earth. He did not have the privilege of walking with Him and being
taught by Him. Paul’s entire vision of the Lord was heavenly in origin and came
after Jesus had ascended back to His Father in heaven.
Thus, Paul’s perspective was not of Jesus Christ as He walked this earth in
humiliation but of Christ Jesus as He is seated among the celestials in glory.
The least of the apostles.
Paul was the finest of the wheat of the Pharisees in his day. By his own admission,
Paul was of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in
relation to law, a Pharisee, in relation to zeal, persecuting the ecclesia, in relation
to the righteousness which is in law, becoming blameless (Philippians 3.5-6 CV ).
He was so zealous for defending the law and its righteousness that he inordinately
persecuted the ecclesia of God and ravaged it, being more zealous than his
contemporaries for the traditions of his fathers (Galatians 1.14 CV ). When Stephen
finished testifying before the religious leaders of Israel and was being stoned to
death, Saul (Paul) 1 was watching and was in hearty agreement with putting him to
death (Acts 8.1).
Prior to meeting the risen Christ, Saul’s conscience was clear, for he was doing
everything that was required under the law. His righteousness was in relation to
doing all that the law required, and in this respect, he was becoming blameless. So,
in Saul’s mind, persecuting the ecclesia of God was justified, for these called-out
Jews who believed in Jesus were no longer seeking righteousness according to the
law but according to a Person. For Saul, the believing Jews had to be dealt with in
1 Acts 13.9 records that Saul was also known as Paul. When He spoke to Saul on the road to
Damascus, Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew dialect and thus called him Saul. In Acts 13, when
Saul began to take his evangel to the nations, he apparently took on the Greek form of his name,
Paul.
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the most severe way, for they were a real threat to the Judaism for which Saul was
becoming blameless. They were called the Way because their way into the
kingdom was far different from the way that Saul knew. To Saul, they were a sect
that needed to be destroyed, but little did he know that he was about to join
company with the Way and be persecuted as well.
Paul’s blinding experience of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus is recorded
three times in Acts, two of which Paul personally recounted. We could say this was
no small matter to Paul; it was a big deal.
Luke, the writer of Acts, reported: And Saul, still breathing out threatenings and
slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked
letters from him to Damascus to the synagogues; so that if he found any of the
Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to
Jerusalem (Acts 9.1-2 MKJV ).
Later, as recorded in Acts, Paul stood before his Jewish brethren and testified of
his life in the days leading up to his experience on the road to Damascus.
I am truly a man, a Jew born in Tarsus in Cilicia , yet brought up in this
city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the exactness of the
Law of the fathers, being a zealous one of God , as you all are today. I
persecuted this Way as far as death, binding and delivering both
men and women into prisons ; as also the high priest bears witness to
me, and all the elderhood. And receiving letters from them to the brothers, I
traveled into Damascus indeed to lead those being bound to Jerusalem, in
order that they might be punished. (Acts 22.3-5 MKJV )
Even later, Paul stood before King Agrippa and again testified of the day leading up
to his blinding encounter with Jesus.
I truly thought within myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the
name of Jesus of Nazareth, which I also did in Jerusalem. And I shut up
many of the saints in prisons , having received authority from the chief
priests. And they being put to death, I cast a vote . And I punished
them often in every synagogue; I compelled them to blaspheme ;
and being exceedingly furious against them, I persecuted them even to the
outside cities. In which pursuit also traveling to Damascus with authority and
power of decision from the chief priests…. (Acts 26.9-12 MKJV )
This was Saul’s testimony, and yet, by God’s grace, Saul was called to be the
ambassador of Christ to the nations.
Paul never made excuse for his persecution of the ecclesia. He readily confessed
what he had done, even done with zeal, and for this reason, in his estimation, he
was the least of the apostles. He was not fit to be called an apostle because he
persecuted the ecclesia of God (1 Corinthians 15.9).
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We need to understand that in his zeal, Saul was tenaciously holding to the truth
that he knew according to Scripture. Little did he know at the time that he was
about to receive revelation of which the Hebrew prophets that he read in the
sacred Scriptures only saw in fragments. Secrets hidden from the preceding
generations and the prophets were about to be revealed to Saul.
I am Jesus.
Saul viewed everything from the prism of Judaism; however, this all changed most
likely in 33-34 AD as he was on the road to Damascus, seeking to threaten and
murder the disciples of the Lord Jesus. On that momentous day, Saul’s whole
religious view, as well as his world view, was turned upside down as he beheld for
the first time the One he was really persecuting.
Now in his going he came to be nearing Damascus. Suddenly a light out of
heaven flashes about him . And falling on the earth, he hears a voice
saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Yet he said,
“Who art Thou, Lord?” Yet He said, “I am Jesus Whom you are
persecuting. Nevertheless, rise and enter the city, and it will be spoken to
you what you must be doing.” Now the men who are journeying with him
stood dumbfounded, hearing, indeed, the sound, yet beholding no one. Now
Saul was raised from the earth, yet, his eyes being open, he observed nothing.
Now, leading him by the hand, they led him into Damascus, and he was three
days not observing aught, and he neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9.3-9 CV )
Saul saw and heard the risen and glorified Jesus in heaven and was blinded by the
sight of His glory. The light of Christ was so bright that it threw Saul to the ground.
He had little time to react, for the Lord Himself called out Saul’s name and asked
why he was persecuting Him. To this, Saul asked: “ Who art Thou, Lord? He knew
that this One who called out from heaven was Lord, but He knew not His name.
Then, Jesus identified Himself to this zealous Hebrew of Hebrews, again reiterat-
ing that Saul was persecuting Him.
Notice that Saul did not argue with the Lord Jesus. He did not ask Jesus how he
was persecuting Him. We can only imagine what thoughts were running through
Saul’s mind at that moment and for the next three blinding days. At first, there
must have been bewilderment as he started to process what had taken place. Per-
haps he kept asking himself: “How could I have missed that Jesus is Messiah? How
could I have been so deceived? I cannot believe that I so egregiously persecuted my
brethren of the Way.” Saul must have felt so unworthy on that momentous day as
he was led away by the dumbfounded ones that were with him. He was temporarily
blinded, but he was given a vision of something that few men see.
Unapproachable light.
We have no indication that Saul actually looked into the face of Jesus, for the light
out of heaven came suddenly and without warning. The glory of Christ was so
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powerful that it caused temporary blindness in Saul. Saul (Paul) would later write
to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith, indicating that no mere mortal can gaze
upon the Sovereign who dwells in unapproachable light.
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and
Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in un-
approachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. (1 Timothy
6.15b-16 NASB )
Glory is often presented as light. Paul’s testimony to Timothy was that no man can
look upon the glory of the Lord. According to Paul’s revelation, to do this, we will
need to be transfigured to be like our Lord Jesus, to be conformed to the body of
His glory (Philippians 3.21). We pray that this glorious day will come soon.
Jesus is the Son of God.
In Damascus, the Lord raised up a disciple to speak to Saul and reveal His plan for
this blinded zealot.
Now there was a certain disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord
said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” Now he said, “Lo! it is I, Lord!” Now the
Lord to him, “Rise! Go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and seek in the house of
Judas for a Tarsian named Saul, for lo! he is praying. And he perceived in a
vision a man named Ananias entering and placing his hands on him so that
he should be receiving sight.” Yet Ananias answered, “Lord, I hear from many
about this man, how much evil he does to Thy saints in Jerusalem. And here
he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who are invoking Thy
name.” Yet the Lord said to him “Go, for he is a choice instrument of
Mine, to bear My name before both the nations and kings, besides
the sons of Israel, for I shall be intimating to him how much he
must be suffering for My name’s sake.” Now Ananias came away and
entered the house, and placing his hands on him, he said, “Saul! Brother! The
Lord has commissioned me (Jesus, Who was seen by you on the road by
which you came), so that you should be receiving sight and be filled with holy
spirit.” And immediately fall from his eyes as if scales, and he receives sight.
Besides, rising, also, he is baptized, and, obtaining nourishment, is
strengthened. Now he came to be with the disciples in Damascus some days.
And immediately, in the synagogues, he heralded Jesus, that He is the Son of
God. (Acts 9.10-20 CV )
Because of the bad report about Saul and his persecution of the ecclesia, Ananias
rightfully hesitated when commanded of the Lord to speak to Saul who was being
commissioned by Jesus to bear His name to the nations in addition to the kings
and the sons of Israel. So the scales fell off Saul’s eyes and he immediately began
heralding in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
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Can you imagine the dramatic change in Saul’s view? His physical blindness was
an indication of his spiritual blindness that had led him on the road to Damascus.
Saul had been blind all along to the identity of his Messiah. Although Jesus walked
among the house of Israel in which Saul was a major player, he had scales on the
eyes of his heart that kept him from seeing. Perhaps he was among the crowd of
Pharisees that followed Jesus and tried to trip Him up every step of the way. When
the scales fell off his physical eyes, scales also fell off the spiritual eye of his heart.
At that moment, what did he see? He saw Jesus as the Son of God! In some
respects, this was on the same order as the day Peter declared: “Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16.16 KJV ).
This was Saul’s testimony of his conversion to Christ. This one event set the course
of his life and began his passion for the One he had persecuted by persecuting the
ecclesia of God.
Both the nations and kings, besides the sons of Israel.
Yet the Lord said to him “Go, for he is a choice instrument of Mine, to
bear My name before both the nations and kings, besides the sons
of Israel, for I shall be intimating to him how much he must be
suffering for My name’s sake.”
The Lord Jesus commissioned Paul to take the evangel not only to the sons of
Israel but also to the nations and kings. From his viewpoint, Paul was the most
unlikely candidate to be given this revelation to dispense to the nations. However,
from our viewpoint, Paul was the most logical and likely candidate. If a gentile or
one from among the unbelieving nations were given such revelation, we might
wonder whether he made it up so that he could have a part in Christ’s kingdom. In
His wisdom, the Lord knew that there would be lingering doubt if He chose a
vessel from among the nations to dispense such a grand revelation. What better
candidate could be put into service than a zealous Jew who desired to see his own
people enter the kingdom of God? Paul had no vested interest in seeing the nations
enter the kingdom, let alone the celestial realm of the kingdom, something that
was not revealed to the prophets of old.
Saul was a believer in God. He must not be considered an unbeliever even as he
was persecuting God’s ecclesia. He was way off the mark as he strode down the
road to Damascus; nevertheless, he belonged to the God of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob.
Apprehended by Christ.
Saul had no choice in the matter. He had no intention of believing that Jesus is the
Messiah and, in fact, he tenaciously held that Jesus was not the Messiah of Israel.
When He appeared out of heaven, Jesus did not tell Saul to believe in Him; He
simply instructed him to get up, enter the city and wait for someone else to instruct
him as to what he must do. Literally, Jesus broke into Saul’s life and revealed who
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He is and instructed Saul what to do. There was no doubt or hesitation in the mind
of Saul at that moment. His response was: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22.10).
By his own admission, Paul was grasped or laid hold of by Christ (Philippians
3.12). It was as if Jesus reached down and grabbed Saul by the scruff of his neck
and apprehended him for Himself, making him His prisoner.
This is one of the most glorious examples of the mercy and grace of God in
Scripture. Saul did not deserve to meet Jesus. He had done nothing to merit
meeting Jesus in such a blinding fashion. If anything, Saul deserved the most
severe punishment from the Lord. Instead, Jesus revealed Himself to Saul and
chose him from among all the Jews of that day to be the apostle of the nations.
Kicking against the goads.
In his testimony before King Agrippa, Paul revealed a little more detail than
previously recorded in Acts.
At midday, on the road, I perceived, O king, a light from heaven, above the
brightness of the sun, shining about me and those going together with me.
Besides, at all of us falling down to the earth, I hear a voice saying to me in
the Hebrew vernacular, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?
Hard is it for you to be kicking against the goads! ’ ‘Now I say, ‘Who
art Thou, Lord?’ Now the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting.
But rise and stand on your feet, for I was seen by you for this, to fix upon you
before for a deputy and a witness both of what you have perceived and that in
which I will be seen by you, extricating you from the people and from the
nations, to whom I am commissioning you, to open their eyes, to turn them
about from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, for them
to get a pardon of sins and an allotment among those who have been
hallowed by faith that is in Me.’ (Acts 26.13-18 CV )
Not only was Saul pursuing the wrong thing, but he was kicking against it as well.
The term kicking against the goads is a reference to a sharp pointed rod that was
often used to urge animals to perform certain tasks. If the animal kicked against
the sharp rod, it only caused more hurt to the animal; thus, there was incentive to
not kick or fight against the goad but to submit to the urging of the master.
Consequently, Saul had been goaded into persecuting his believing brethren. He
had been kicking against the goad, but this was futile work, destined to fail, for it
was fighting against the Lord Himself. It was only hurting Saul, not the Lord.
Jesus had appeared to Saul for the purpose of appointing him to be a witness of
what he had seen and to things which Jesus would reveal to him later. In other
words, Saul’s blinding experience was only the beginning of Jesus’ appearances to
Saul (e.g., see Acts 18.9-10; 23.11). This is an important point, for Saul received
subsequent revelation. As his evangel began to form through revelation from
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Jesus, as well as from searching the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul began to preach
about justification by faith, reconciliation, and glorification among the celestials,
which raises salvation to the height of glory.
Paul’s evangel was based not on the earthly walk of Jesus but on His ascension and
glorification, which is why Paul extensively referred to Christ Jesus. Paul described
this first encounter with Jesus as the heavenly vision.
The heavenly vision.
Whereupon, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly
vision but have, first to those both in Damascus and Jerusalem, and to all
the region of Judaea, and to the nations, announced that they should repent
and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance…. (Acts 26.19-20 DNT )
Paul traveled from Damascus to Jerusalem and the area around Jerusalem
(Judea), which was a distance of about 260 kilometers from city to city, taking this
one message to the Jews and to the nations (gentiles). For this reason, Paul was
able to testify before Agrippa that he had discharged this message as entrusted to
him by Jesus in what Paul called the heavenly vision . Paul was not disobedient to
this vision; however, he must have had subsequent visions or encounters with
Jesus which led to greater revelation as later discharged in his epistles, especially
the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.
Progressive vision.
In reading Paul’s epistles, it is important to keep in mind that his vision must have
been progressive, that is, Jesus revealed more of the pillars of the truth of our
faith, including the purpose of the eons, until Paul was given the completed word
of God (Colossians 1.25 CV ; see Galatians 1.11-24).
To learn of the evangel for the nations, we must read and study Paul’s epistles that
can be divided into four groups: the preparatory epistles (Romans, 1 & 2
Corinthians, Galatians); the perfection epistles (Ephesians, Philippians,
Colossians); the promise epistles (1 & 2 Thessalonians); and the personal epistles
(1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon).
Another way to study Paul’s epistles is to read them in the order in which they
were written. Unfortunately, we do not know the exact years they were written and
there is some degree of disagreement over the dates. However, the following is one
thought on the dates: 1 & 2 Thessalonians (52 AD); 1 Timothy (56 AD); 1 & 2
Corinthians and Galatians (57 AD); Romans (58 AD); Titus (61 AD); Ephesians,
Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (61-63 AD); and 2 Timothy (68 AD).
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Unique vision.
We must realize that Paul’s vision and his calling were rather unique from the
twelve apostles because they were directed not to the Jews entirely but primarily to
the nations.
As a side note; anyone today who claims that they have had a vision such as Paul’s
must be viewed with great suspicion, especially if it adds to or takes away from the
word of God that was completed through Paul. Some years ago, a man claimed that
he had a vision in which Paul appeared sitting in heaven on a throne and spoke a
message to him to give to the “church.” Such things must be ignored. This is not
how we receive vision in our day.
Spiritual vision.
Our vision must come from the completed word of God. Vision today is not seeing
things with our physical eyes or in our minds, such as apparitions. It is seeing with
the spiritual eyes of our heart. We see this in Paul’s prayer for the saints who are
believers in Christ Jesus.
He prayed that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may be
giving you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, the eyes of
your heart having been enlightened , for you to perceive what is the expectation of
His calling, and what the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment
among the saints, and what the transcendent greatness of His power for us who
are believing, in accord with the operation of the might of His strength, which is
operative in the Christ, rousing Him from among the dead and seating Him at His
right hand among the celestials, up over every sovereignty and authority and
power and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this eon, but also in
that which is impending: and subjects all under His feet, and gives Him, as Head
over all, to the ecclesia which is His body, the complement of the One completing
the all in all (Ephesians 1.17-23 CV ).
Now, this is a mighty powerful prayer, but notice that it is spiritual sight that Paul
desired for the saints. He did not pray that they would have a vision like he had but
that the eyes of their heart, the spiritual heart, would be opened to see what they
had been saved into as revealed in his epistles, especially the letter to the
Ephesians.
We are living in days of great darkness. The only thing that can dispel darkness is
light. For those who are spiritual, it does not take very long to discern the darkness
that is enveloping the world today and devouring many people, even believers. Do
not be fooled into seeking after manifestations that many might call visions. Vision
does not refer to dreams and apparitions that many are seeking today in what is
most likely a false spirituality.
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The only way to dispel darkness is through the light of Christ. We need to see more
and more of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We need to see Him for who He is and our
position in Him. We need the light out of heaven to enlighten the eyes of our heart
for us to perceive the glorious expectation that we have in Christ. We need vision of
our beloved Lord Jesus. He alone is the One who sets us on our feet and sets the
course of our life that is destined to be among the celestials in Christ.
How do we come into this spiritual sight? It can only come through the word of
God and by experiencing His life and knowing His mind in the affairs of life. Most
of all, we need spiritual sight or perception of what Paul has given to us in the
evangel that was given to him to dispense to the nations. However, let us be clear
that vision or spiritual sight is more than just reading or memorizing words and
accumulating facts and figures. We need revelation or understanding of what we
are seeing in the word. We need revelation of the vision given to Paul.
Paul was blinded by the light out of heaven, but he needed revelation of the
meaning of the light. He had to hear the words I am Jesus, Whom you are
persecuting , before he could make any sense of what was happening to him. Get
up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do (Acts 9.6). And
Paul began heralding that Jesus is the Son of God!
We need to see that our emphasis must not be on seeking visions for the sake of
visions but on seeking after one vision, the vision of Christ. But it even goes beyond
this; it is about seeking after, knowing, and experiencing Christ Himself. It is not
vision that changes our lives; it is by Christ Himself through His spirit that our
lives are so changed that He is formed in us (Galatians 4.19), and we are ultimately
fully conformed to His image as His complement. Vision is only the means to see
Christ more clearly.
Do not seek after visions. Seek after the one vision that matters, Jesus! Seek after
the risen One who was revealed to Paul. Seek after the glorified Christ and pursue
Him with a passion that consumes your whole life. We could say that heavenly
vision yields passion. This is what it did in Paul’s life and what it will do in ours,
once we behold the glory of the Lord Jesus. This is the life of the conqueror!
So many brethren in our day are seeking after many things with much passion;
however, the one thing that matters most is not pursued with the same passion.
The one thing is not even a thing; He is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just
visit any bookstore that sells so-called Christian books and peruse the numerous
titles. There are many books written about Christian things, but there are few that
are written about the one thing. The vision that is presented in so many books is
related more to how to do something or to how to achieve some result. Most
material is about how believers are to get things from God, or how they are to live
better lives on this earth, whether it is gaining wealth or success or many other
things that the world seeks after as well. Much is written on God’s purpose for a
person’s life, how to know this purpose, and how to achieve this purpose. The list
of topics is almost endless.
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Dear brethren, we need the one vision that matters in a day that so many of the
Lord’s people are either without vision or are chasing after the many visions of
men. Most vision spoken of today is earthly vision; it is bound to the earth and to
today.
We need the light out of heaven to shine on us.
We need heavenly vision, vision of the ascended and glorified Jesus that
transcends this earth and reaches the heights of glory among the celestials. We
need vision of the One who is the Origin and the Consummation of the eons. We
need vision that carries us into the eons of the eons and beyond. We need vision
that opens the eyes of our heart to the purpose of the eons in Christ Jesus, our
Lord. We need vision that we are in Christ, forever secure in His life.
Who are the conquerors in Christ? They are the ones with vision, heavenly vision!
They are the ones who have seen the light out of heaven! They have seen Jesus!
May the eyes of your heart be enlightened to see and to know….
Scripture Abbreviations:
CV
Concordant Version (Literal New Testament)
DNT
Darby New Translation
KJV
King James Version
MKJV
Modern King James Version
NASB
New American Standard Bible
By: Stuart H. Pouliot
Article #4
December, 2007
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